Research has shown that people who are married generally live longer than people who are single. Last year, U.S. government health statisticians reported that the longevity gap between the two groups was growing, but new research clarifies that the “quality” of the relationship plays a huge role in the impact on a person’s mortality risk.
The old saying is “happy wife, happy life,” but that will only be true if that wife isn’t hypercritical of her partner. A new study found that the stress of having a partner who doles out constant criticism can lead to poor health and even earlier death in an individual.
Is your relationship killing you?
The study, conducted by researchers at Lafayette College, analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, which interviewed more than 3,000 middle-aged and elderly people in 2005 and then again in 2010. Out of all the participants, 1,735 were in a committed relationship.
In order to measure the quality of the participant’s relationships, the researchers examined the amount of criticism that the person received from their partner, the number of demands their partners made towards them, and if they felt generally annoyed with their partner.
The answers to these questions were studied against each person’s body mass index, self-reported health score, and the number of medications they took. The researchers also took note of which patients had died before the 2010 follow-up interviews.
When comparing all factors, the researchers found that constant criticism takes the largest toll on a person’s health and mortality, compared to the amount of demands from a partner and feeling annoyed towards them.
Why does constant criticism lead to an earlier death?
When it comes to strain in a relationship, excessive criticism appears to take more of a toll than excessive demands. Participants who reported high demands but low criticism in the first round of interviews were generally still alive by the second round.
While you may think the ideal relationship would have high support and low demands, it turns out that people can still be happy in relationships when demand is high, as long as support is also high.
While constructive criticism is helpful at work, it turns out that criticism in a relationship is the real killer. Participants who reported high levels of criticism in the first round of interviews had a much higher chance of being dead by the time of the second round of interviews when compared to those who reported low levels of criticism.
Jamila Bookwala and Trent Gaugler, the researchers in this study, had theories about why spousal criticism is so detrimental to one’s health.
Their first theory is that constant criticism can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or drinking. The next was that it created negativity in the relationship, which likely leads to long-term stress that has detrimental effects on overall health.
Negativity in a relationships can also fuel anxiety, depression, and loneliness in an individual, which have all been tied to earlier deaths in previous studies.
“These findings have important clinical implications because they point to the value of developing interventions [like therapy] that target lowering negative aspects of relationship quality with one’s spouse or partner, especially as related to criticism within the relationship,” Bookwala and Gaugler wrote.
Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.